Today’s Australian National University study on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) further underscores the need for more efficient and effective project approvals processes.
The study shows that federal environmental approval laws largely duplicate existing regulations, provide little extra protection and have cost Australian business as much as $820 million over the past nine years.
It says: “The concentration of the Environmental Impact Assessment regime on large infrastructure, oil, gas, mining, and urban development projects has stunted its capacity to generate significant environmental gains. These types of activities are already subject to other federal, state and territory regulatory processes.”
The MCA is not advocating a diminution of measures to protect the environment, but seeks improvements to the efficiency and coordination of legislation within jurisdictions.
The Minerals Council of Australia has recommended a model for improved environmental outcomes and regulatory efficiency for the EPBC Act. This includes eliminating duplication by refocusing the Commonwealth’s administration of the Act to nationally consistent strategic guidance within which the States would assess individual projects.
This would include:
- the establishment and broader implementation of bilateral agreements for assessment and approvals processes;
- establishment and endorsement of regional planning instruments that meet EPBC Act protection requirements under bilateral approvals, whereby other jurisdictions then subsequently review and regulate projects; and
- Commonwealth activities being focussed more appropriately on strategic investment and planning support and assessing outcomes through monitoring and auditing compliance.
Resolving the systemic inefficiencies in the administration of the Act should be a priority of the current review of the EPBC Act before additional layers of regulation are considered by the Federal Government.
The interim review of the EPBC Act released in July raised the prospect of additional layers of regulation related to water, greenhouse gases and land clearing that are already covered by current laws.
The study clearly illustrates that there are no grounds for increasing regulation as there are adequate existing protection mechanisms for matters of national environmental significance under the EPBC Act.
Changes to the administration of the EPBC Act could facilitate improved environmental outcomes and greatly reduce the red tape burden on business.